City Extends Emergency Alert Service To Cell Phones

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The city of Berkeley is offering a new program that will enable officials to alter residents during emergencies.

The program-Berkeley Emergency Notification System-allows residents to register cell phone numbers and get pre-recorded messages in case of emergency.

In the past, residents have only been able to receive the messages on home numbers. But not all residents have home phone services because some opt to use only cell phones or online phone services, said Deputy Fire Chief Gil Dong.

The new service will ensure that all residents who register for the program can be reached in an emergency. Users can also specify an e-mail address where they want to receive alerts, Dong said.

While designed to be used in the event of a major disaster, the service could also be activated to inform residents of less-threatening situations.

Dong said the service was used in July to help locate a missing child and could also be used to notify residents of food recalls or other public health issues.

Zandra Lee, a spokesperson for the city's Department of Public Health, said she thought the system, although expensive, could potentially be useful.

"The city has adopted this system because we think we can use it to ensure that more people can have access to critical messages," she said.

Dong said the service, managed by the Baton Rouge, La. based FirstCall Interactive Network, costs the city $12,500 per year. If a message was sent, it would cost the city 9.5 cents per call, he said.

But Dong said city officials can designate a specific geographic area to send the calls to only people who might be affected by an incident. Officials can also rank the priority with which residents can receive information, he said.

The city's notification system is similar to WarnMe, a program that was announced by the UC Berkeley campus in August. The program sends recorded messages, text messages or e-mail alerts to students and staff who sign up.

Dong said the program would be useful because it would allow city officials to communicate with residents during a potential disaster.

"We are the fourth densest city in California," he said. "So if we need to facilitate (an evacuation) ... that's hard to do without additional tools."

Jessica Kwong of The Daily Californian contributed to this report.

To connect to the City's First Cell Web site, click here.


Contact Angelica Dongallo and Will Kane at [email protected]

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